We live in a pretty remote area of the country, in a small town in Idaho. So while we love to support our local economy through grocery shopping, eating out, and frequenting the hardware stores 8 times a week, when it comes to furnishing and decorating our home, I would say 90% of it comes from online shopping. I’ve realized, although it’s becoming more and more the norm, it’s still a scary thought for a lot of people to buy a sofa you’ve never sat on, or a mattress you’ve never slept on, or a front door you’ve never seen in person–all things we’ve purchased online in the past year. In this week’s podcast (Ep. 15) we talk about how we’ve navigated shopping online (including talking about our newest couch!), but I wanted to jot down the top ten tips I’ve picked up over the years when shopping online for home furnishings and decor:
1. Know what you’re looking for. Since the internet has more stores than you can fathom, googling “lamp” isn’t going to save you any time. Better would be “black lamp.” Even better would be knowing the style you’re going for “Black, modern, wall-mounted lamp.” A decor site like Wayfair will have thousands more options than, say, West Elm. But West Elm is a curated collection for a specific casual-modern style. So if you’re short on time, and know a specialty site is aligned with your style, (Pottery Barn is very traditional, Serena & Lily is coastal, Restoration hardware is masculine industrial, etc) it doesn’t hurt to check them first. Bottom line, the more specific you can get the better. Online window shopping is dangerous, so know what you generally want, including color, style and price before you begin the hunt.
2. Have measurements and a tape measure handy. I have a permanent note on my desktop with the size of our entry rug written on it, in case I come across a cool runner online that I could lay overtop of our FLOR squares. Measurements are everything when you’re online shopping. We’ve bought every couch we own online but mapping on the length, width and height, but most importantly for us, knowing the minimum depth we look for. We’re tall, so a deep seat is essential. If you’re looking for a light fixture, know the maximum height your ceilings can handle (you always want a minimum of a 7ft clearance). If you’re looking for a rug, tape off different sizes before ordering one up.
3. Keep.com is a site, similar to Pinterest in that you can save items, follow people, and organize your finds within boards. The main difference that I appreciate is, everything is shoppable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a cool something on Pinterest that has lead me down a rabbit hole to no source and no product. Even if that couch is $10,000, just tell me! So I can stop! I can never stop. If I’m looking for a cool new watch (this is hypothetical), I would just search “watch” on keep, and up pop all the watches that people have saved, which feels more like a curated collection of the coolest watches out there–that all link to actual watches you could buy. They have their site divided into categories, so you can click “Home Decor” right away if you want.
4. Reverse Google Image search. This is my secret weapon. Anytime I’m shopping for something that could be purchased through multiple sources (i.e. the Loloi faux cowhide in our reading room is sold through at least 10 different sites), I save the product image to my desktop and then upload in the search bar at images.google.com. This brings up all the sites that have that image on it–most of which have a price attached to it, so I can quickly see who is selling the rug for the best price.
5. Buy coupons on eBay. When a product isn’t sold on multiple sites, and it’s exclusive to a larger brand like Restoration Hardware, West Elm, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, etc., look for coupons on eBay! We even buy coupons for Home Depot and Lowe’s on eBay if we’re getting ready to buy an appliance or large tool or flooring! I’ve shared this tip before, but we’ve saved so much money on large purchases by buying 10%-20% off coupons on eBay for large ticket items, like our bed, and sofas. If the couch is listed for $1000 (let’s keep the math easy, eh?) and you buy a 15% off coupon for $10 on eBay, you’re still saving $140!! Every time, the seller immediately sends the coupon code to my email, so I can use it right away.
6. Join email lists. No one wants to junk up their emails, I get it. But I have joined all of my favorite brands mailing lists. Not only do I hear about sales first (those clearance items don’t sell themselves out), they usually send a percentage off code when you first join, and brands like West Elm are constantly sending me unique codes just for me for an extra 15% off my order if it’s been awhile between my orders. Way to suck me in! I do have a separate email account just for my retail mailing lists, so they’re all in one spot and I don’t have to worry about them clogging up my work email. If you find yourself about to purchase something from a site where you aren’t on the mailing list, it’s always worth it to google around for a coupon code. Sometimes sites like retailmenot.com will have working ones that you may have missed!
7. Read reviews, but with a grain of salt. Reviews have changed everything! We bought our Tuft & Needle mattress based off of nearly 5000 five-star reviews. But, don’t decide against something just because it only has a couple negative reviews, without actually reading them first. I have found so many times where a reviewer gave a positive review but maybe accidentally click a low star count. Or their bad review was because it was “much smaller than they thought it would be” when the dimensions are listed. (See #2).
8. It’s not a bad idea to pay for the sample. Almost every website will offer some sort of textile or flooring sample, sometimes even for free! But even if you have to pay a couple bucks, it’s worth it to make sure you like the color. A lot of times, custom upholstery is non-returnable so the upfront, small investment of time and a little bit of money is worth it to make sure the undertones and color are what you were hoping for. Because computer screen colors vary so much, it’s hard to go by exactly what you’re seeing on your monitor.
9. Check on return policies. Just in case, it’s nice to know you have options, or don’t, when it comes to something that doesn’t work after all. Smaller decor items, as long as they weren’t on final clearance, we’ve had no problems returning. However, larger items are often trickier. You may have to pay a restocking fee or shipping, and then decide if it’s worth it or maybe you could sell it yourself on Craigslist.
10. eBates.com. Do you use ebates? It’s kind of like a rebate program, where you can earn cash back just by clicking through the link on eBates before purchasing something. They don’t have every imaginable store, but Amazon, Macy’s, and World Market are usually there. Also, lots of clothing places we shop at frequently like Gap and Old Navy. Sometimes you can get 2% back (which adds up!) and sometimes it’s 50% back! They mail a check with the cash back you’ve accumulated quarterly, and it always feels like a bonus. You can get started here.
So that’s how we’ve bought nearly everything from wallpaper, to flooring, to our bed, all the lighting and everything in between for our home online. A lot of people have asked me what my favorite online sources for our home are, and while I’m pretty open, these are a few places I’m constantly checking:
I hope this helps! You can find a full source list and links to where online we bought everything in our home, on our Shop Our House page.
Be sure to listen to this week’s podcast for more of a candid conversation about online shopping–that involves a lot more laughing at our own jokes.